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David Beaulieu

David's Landscaping Blog

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Does Spring Bring Out Your Inner Wood Nymph?

Wednesday April 23, 2014

There's something about the landscape in spring that takes me back, mentally, to ancient Greece, when nymphs still traipsed through magical forests. picture of tree faceI guess it's the freshness in the vegetation, which has such a powerful impact on my senses that I want to imagine there's something more there than meets the eye, something "divine." Maybe the moderate temperatures have a bit to do with it, too, putting me in such an exuberant mood that I can better relate to the Greeks' predilection for investing nature with an awe that transcends science.

Of course, it also doesn't hurt that some of the plants that bloom in spring enjoy mythological associations, including:

Yes, for the Greeks, the woods were just teeming with spirits. Although the nymphs are better known, another class of minor forest spirits was the hamadryads, the spirits of trees. No mere idle spectators, a hamadryad was literally wrapped up in the fate of her tree: if the tree died, so did she.

Tree owners nowadays are in no imminent peril when their favorite specimens develop health problems, but they can, nonetheless, become quite vexed about it, to say the least. We invest a lot in our trees, in terms not only of money but also energy and emotions. Thus the need for my FAQ on magnolia care, which you should bookmark in case your magnolia tree ever runs into any serious problems.

Read article: Magnolia Care

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)

Taking Advantage of the First Warm Days

Tuesday April 22, 2014

I'm not surprised that we're finally having a beautiful day or two in my neck of the woods. picture of saucer magnoliaAfter all, warm weather always returns at some point every year, right? But after enduring a winter in New England, somehow I'm always...well, not exactly surprised, but...let's say "amazed" by such days.

Believe me, you can be amazed by something, even if you know it's coming. It's all a matter of contrast. I was wearing a hat and gloves until recently. Now, when I'm spring cleaning my yard, I actually get too hot sometimes.

After months of seeing so little change as I looked out over the winter landscape, the changes coming now are almost overwhelming. I can barely keep up with my garden journal, so numerous are the changes in the plants all around me. I feel like telling Mother Nature: "Hey, slow down! There's plenty of time from now till fall to bring everything to fruition. Let's prolong the spring a bit, so we have time to appreciate more fully all the changes it brings."

We lovers of plants and the outdoors who live in northerly climes have some pretty funny ways of taking advantage of the first warm days in spring. Take me, for instance. All winter, I had been squeezing oranges inside for my fresh orange juice (vitamin C to fight colds and all that). But the other day, I took my squeezer, knife and oranges outside, pulled up a camp chair, and did the squeezing outdoors, where I could admire the blooms on a saucer magnolia (picture). Besides affording an opportunity to enjoy the warm sun (and to notice the first wild violets popping up in the lawn, as a bonus), squeezing oranges outside had two distinct advantages:

  1. I didn't have to clean up the mess on the kitchen counter afterwards.
  2. I didn't have so far to go to dump the leftover orange peels into the compost pile.

How about you? How did you take advantage of the first warm days of the spring? Please relate your stories by using the Comments section below.

More: 10 Ways to Screw Up Your Landscaping

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Photo ©2012 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Get to Know Japanese Knotweed on National Weed Day

Sunday April 20, 2014

picture of japanese knotweed stand

Today is Easter, and even many who are not deeply religious are at least marking the occasion by the exchanging of Easter lilies and the like. But did you know that today was also National Weed Day? Until recently, I didn't know that there was such a thing. But now that I do know, I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity to get a message across.

No, it's not the kind of message you may be thinking of. In fact, my message doesn't even pretend to be in keeping with the spirit of the celebration (that kind of "weed" isn't even legal yet in my state). As a landscaping enthusiast, the primary meaning of "weed" for me is the original meaning.

Consequently, my message on National Weed Day is that you should familiarize yourself (if you haven't already done so) with one of the great terrors of the weed world: Japanese knotweed. Many people just like you have come to grief over this menace. In the U.K., having Japanese knotweed on your land can even reduce your home's value! And who's to say that won't be the law of the land elsewhere in the near future?

Japanese knotweed may be the most despised plant that hardly anybody knows about. Is that a contradiction? No. Allow me to explain.

Many residents of North America and the U.K. own land on which Japanese knotweed grows. The vast majority of such residents to whom I have spoken would pay good money to have someone remove Japanese knotweed from their yards once and for all. But if Japanese knotweed is such a common problem, why do I state above that hardly anybody knows about it? Well, to be more specific, hardly any of these folks know the name of the plant.

And the fact is, without properly identifying a weed, you can make fighting it more difficult for yourself. Proper weed identification can be the gateway to knowledge that has been compiled over the years regarding a particular plant. As superficial as a mere name may seem, without it, you're barring yourself from all kinds of helpful tips and warnings. That goes for all weeds, not just Japanese knotweed. To that end, I provide a photo gallery showing weed pictures to help you identify many of the most common weeds.

The picture I provide in this article will help you determine whether you have Japanese knotweed on your own property. And if Japanese knotweed has, in fact, made a home for itself in your yard, you'll want to read the rest of the article to find out how to get rid of it.

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Stars of the Yard for April, 2014

Friday April 18, 2014

picture of glory of the snow bloom

What plants, currently, are shining most brightly in your yard? Are the blossoms of an early bloomer bringing a smile to your face as you rake, trim and otherwise perform spring cleaning jobs in your yard? One of the plants in my landscaping that I'm most proud of is my winter jasmine. Listed as a zone 6 plant (I'm in zone 5), I provided it with winter protection until it could become established. As a mature plant now, it rewards that early care annually with a profusion of yellow blooms, and all without needing coddling anymore.

Bulb plants dominate this time of year here in New England. Snowdrops, glory-of-the-snow, dwarf iris and crocus lead the charge into spring. Hyacinth, daffodil and star of Bethlehem come along a bit later.

In my own yard, the following blooming plants are the stars of April, along with those erstwhile vernal standouts, the pussy willows:

How about you? Vote in my poll and let us know what plants are shining most brightly in your own yard right now. If none of these plants best exemplify your own April standouts, choose "Other" and tell us about your nominees in the Comments section.

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Photo ©2013 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Tulips and Tulipomania

Wednesday April 16, 2014

Many of us think "Holland" when we hear talk of tulips. picture of tulipThat's not where they come from originally, though. Tulips originated mainly in central Asia. Still, the Holland connection is understandable. Perhaps no other people has ever gone as head-over-heels for tulips as have the Dutch, not even Tiny Tim fans.

The time period from the late 20th century to the early 21st century has seen an Internet bubble and a housing bubble in the U.S., but such bubbles are nothing new. In 17th-century Holland, tulip bulbs were allegedly so prized that they were traded as a sort of commodity. The frenzied trading in tulips at the height of "Tulipomania" led to a bubble. The subsequent bursting of the bubble is believed by some to have wrought considerable havoc on the Dutch economy.

We're unlikely to witness a repeat of Tulipomania, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to "go crazy about" regarding tulips. Tulips are many people's favorite spring flowers.

In her encyclopedic volume, Bulb, Anna Pavord says of the tulip that it is "the queen of all bulbs, producing the sexiest, the most capricious, the most various, subtle, powerful, and intriguing flowers that any gardener will ever set eyes on." Consult my flower bulbs book review for more information on this excellent read.

Though a tulip lover, myself, I won't attempt to support Pavord's bold claim. But I do provide helpful growing tips in my full article on planting tulips.

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Shrubs to Prune in Spring

Thursday April 10, 2014

There are some shrubs that you can prune early (late winter or early spring), without worrying that you're going to cost yourself some flowers during blooming time. picture of beauty berry That's because they bloom on new wood. Today I'll be talking about a few examples.

Butterfly bush is that controversial shrub named not for what it looks like, but for what it attracts. Why controversial? Because in many regions, it's invasive. I discuss a cultivar in my article that is touted as being a non-invasive improvement. Some people hack butterfly bush right down to the ground.

Beautyberry is another with which one can be ruthless in pruning. This bush is grown for its berries, not its blooms (although, of course, you can't have the former without the latter).

Another deciduous shrub grown primarily for something other than its flowers is red twig dogwood. In this case, it's the bark color of the plant that is most valued. Since the bark is most colorful on the new shoots (which you can generate by pruning off the older branches), this is a bush that you'll want to practice rejuvenation-style pruning on regularly, as I explain in my article.

My final two entries for today, though, are definitely grown for their flowers. In fact, the blooms of bluebeard shrubs and rose of sharon are an important source of color for the late-summer yard.

Wait, did I actually just make a reference to late summer? Believe me, it pains me to do so. And not because ragweed pollen will be causing allergies when late summer rolls around (although, to be sure, it will); there are, after all, allergies to deal with in spring, too. No, my reason is a psychological one: namely, having just made it into the fair-weather months here in New England, I'm loath to even think about anything that far into the future. I want the present to drag.

Do you feel the same way? Then try not to think of late summer when you're pruning those bushes and performing other tasks in the spring yard (contemplate something more pleasant, such as stimulating your feline friend with catnip). But speaking of pruning chores, Marie Iannotti, About's Gardening Guide, lists some more shrubs to prune in spring.

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Photo ©2008 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Seasonal Calendar of a Nature Lover

Monday April 7, 2014

Like me, many of you would, undoubtedly, characterize yourself as "nature lovers."golden But what do those words really mean? Well, there are different kinds of nature lovers, and my intention in today's blog post is to portray one type (mine) -- a type bound to be more plentiful, I suppose, in regions that experience four distinct seasons (or more; Amy Campion makes a compelling case in her What Blooms When blog for recognizing a far larger number of seasons). This type of nature lover lives by a "seasonal calendar." It's not a calendar you hang on the wall; it's a calendar you "read" by opening your heart to nature.

Nature lovers of this sort behold the drama of the changing seasons every year as if it were being played out for the very first time -- such is our immersion in the grand performance, as the curtain closes on one act and opens on another. In fact, we identify so intimately with the drama, that we almost think of ourselves as performers in the play, rather than mere spectators. Every fall, we feel cruelly deserted as darkness waxes strong and daylight wanes. Every spring we feel "brand new." We take it all so personally.

Our seasonal calendar is thus a four-act play. We mark the year's progress less by the conventional calendar than by our own interaction with the signs of the seasons. Of course, different individuals may recognize different signs, or may ascribe greater importance to one sign than to another.

For me, spring fully arrives when I affirm the peepers' announcement of such. I commence summer with my annual trip along the coast of Maine around solstice time; I put all those daylight hours to good use, searching for, among other things, the glorious blooms of the golden chain trees (picture). But when rose of sharon blooms burst upon the scene, I know that summer's days are numbered.

The first hint of yellow, orange or red in the (healthy) trees warns me that autumn is imminent and that it will soon be time again to set up the outdoor Halloween decorations. "Warns," I say, out of trepidation for the season that succeeds it, the season-that-must-not-be-named.

But that's old news now. Spring has mercifully returned; Act IV's antagonist has no lines in Act I. Do you feel brand new again?

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Photo of golden chain tree raceme ©2006 David Beaulieu (licensed to About.com)

My Lawn Doesn't Have Weeds in It

Saturday April 5, 2014

Would you like to be able to make the claim, "My lawn doesn't have weeds in it"? picture of wild violetsWell, you can. And no, it doesn't require an obsession with lawn maintenance and hours of digging weeds or dumping herbicides on them.

Not to go all Clintonesque on you, but, you see, it really boils down to how you answer the question, What is a weed?. According to the great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, those who refer to this or that plant as a "weed" simply haven't discovered its virtues yet.

So if you boldly tell the guy next door that your lawn doesn't have any weeds in it, and the incredulous neighbor points to all the wild violets (picture) or dandelions growing amongst your grass blades with a quizzical look on his face, it's easy enough to have a comeback line ready. Just cite one of the virtues of the weed in question. If you're unable to do so (yet), tell him that you're still in the process of discovering its virtues and need to have it around to study it. Citing Emerson would give you some credibility, too.

If you truly believe what you're saying, you should be able to pull it off without a glitch. Otherwise, it would help to be able to put on a poker face while delivering your lines.

Seriously, though, it's a good idea to learn something about a weed before you begin fighting it (if it turns out that you cannot find any virtues in it, that is). For example, is it an annual or a perennial? Crabgrass is to be fought in quite a different fashion from dandelions, because the former is an annual and the latter is a perennial. Knowing this kind of thing will save you time, energy and money, believe me! Here I tell you all about some common lawn weeds, including how to fight them.

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Photo ©2012 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)

What Makes the "Other Easter Flower" So Special?

Tuesday April 1, 2014

The enthusiasm with which I am now blogging about Pasque flower raises an interesting question (in a mind that works like my own, at least): by what criteria does the plant enthusiast rank one flower ahead of another? picture of pasque flower bloomI specify "plant enthusiast" because folks who merely "like to have some plants around" -- but who don't go head over heels about particular plants -- are perhaps not passionate enough on the subject to grapple with this question in the way that I am suggesting.

So what excites me about Pasque flower? The criterion Pasque flower meets for achieving a high rank is that it blooms early. Depending on the year and the climate in which you live, it may bloom around Easter. Thus the common name, "Easter flower," although many of you may associate Easter lilies with that holiday.

Yes, for plants as well as for people, timing can be of the essence. And there's something special about the first blooms that greet us in early spring after a long winter! A plant boasting such blooms immediately takes precedence over others that, while just as attractive (or maybe even more so), bloom later in the year. The later bloomers can easily get "lost in the crowd," but the earliest bloomers, like Pasque flower, stand out.

Some of the other criteria that may cause certain plants to rank above others include:

  • How well plants fit into your color scheme
  • What plants offer in terms of form and texture
  • Growing conditions: some types of flowers grow better than others in particular problem areas (e.g., excessively wet or dry areas)

More: 10 Best Perennial Vines for Sun

More: 10 Best Late Spring Flowering Shrubs

More: Acid-Loving Plants

More: What Is Slime Mold?

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Photo ©2008 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

What Garden Bloggers Are Talking About

Saturday March 29, 2014

picture of red columbine

I spend more time now on social media than I care to admit. There was a time when I would check my email first thing in the morning. Not anymore. Now I check Facebook first. Even when I do get around to checking my email, chances are good that the majority of my messages will be oriented toward social media (especially Pinterest).

As geeky as all that sounds, being active in social media does have its concrete benefits for me. For example, it has put me in touch with some interesting garden bloggers with whom I probably would not have established contact otherwise. These folks give me ideas and help me keep my finger on the pulse of what the landscaping and gardening communities are discussing.

Speaking of which, today I'm featuring some of the thought-provoking, cutting-edge, or just plain funny material I've come across recently in reading the work of other garden bloggers.

I begin with two pieces from Scott Harris, whom some of you may know as the moderator for About.com's Gardening forum. Scotty has been entertaining friends recently on his Facebook timeline with plant identification quizzes and a general celebration of spring. His friends have done their part, as well, to create a festive mood, engaging in lively banter with their host. Scotty is also one of the owners of the Our Vintage Garden website, where his wonderful sense of humor has manifested itself in some garden stories that will make you chuckle, such as this one that is reminiscent of a Three Stooges short.

David McClure, Landscape Designer and Marketing Specialist with Miller Landscape, does the honors for the "cutting edge" segment. In his blog post, "Garden Media Group Releases Best New Garden Plants & Products for Spring 2014," David alerts us to Garden Media's list of hot items for spring, 2014. Included on the list is an Oriental lily named 'Distant Drum' that would be good company in the garden for my Stargazer lily.

A couple of recent blog posts right here at About.com have also caught my attention. Jamie McIntosh shares some thoughts on dogs and gardens. She recently brought home a new dog and relates how much joy the mutt has given her family. But a canine presence in a garden isn't all puppy dogs, sunshine and lollypops, so our Flowers Expert furnishes some realistic solutions to the problems that are sure to arise.

Last but not least, Marie Iannotti has some suggestions for plugging that gap between the earliest bloomers and the summer bloomers in "Flowers to Bridge Spring into Summer." Essentially, this is a post about sequence of bloom, a subject near and dear to my heart. And on the subject of the heart, bleeding heart is one of the flowers mentioned by our Gardening Expert, along with one of my very favorite perennials, columbine (see picture above).

In the highly unlikely event that you've ever wondered how I spend my time during the day, now you know. There's so much great information to read out there in social media and the blogosphere. As the weather starts to warm up here in New England, I'll be torn between keeping up with such reading and going outside to enjoy my garden. I have a pretty good idea as to which activity will win out, though.

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

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